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A Farewell to Gavin Keirans

Current UPUA President Christan Ragland (left), with his predecessor Gavin Keirans

Former University Park Undergraduate Association President Gavin Keirans has certainly left a legacy within the UPUA since its fledgling inception years ago after the dissolution of the Undergraduate Student Government in the spring of 2007. Since he took the executive reigns, Keirans has seen the UPUA transform from an institution plagued by in-fighting to a legitimate student government, complete with an executive and judicial body, a significant standing budget, a constitution, and an increased level of participation in student government activities.

To get more insight on this, I talked to Keirans himself.

Keirans’ Ascension to the Presidency

In 2008, Keirans and running mate Valarie Russell ran for the UPUA executive office, taking 52 percent of the student body vote.

The Editorial Board Endorsement in the Daily Collegian that year had this to say of the Keirans/Russell ticket:

UPUA has spent two years trying to get on its feet. It’s about time it had a president who is already standing.

Aside from his goal of bolstering the presence of the UPUA on campus, Keirans originally ran on a platform of creating a tenant-landlord dispute center, creating an online book swap that would work in tandem with Information Technology Services, and form legal affairs services for students with ties in the Dickinson School of Law.

Legitimizing the UPUA

Along with the establishment of a judicial and executive branch within the assembly, under Keirans, the UPUA had also established a standing budget of approximately $140,000. The adoption of a standing budget immediately brought the UPUA out from under its rock and into a legitimized form of student government where there was now money to turn talk into action and bring the ideas of Keirans and the rest of the assembly to fruition. The budget also allowed for assembly members to bring in fresh ideas and introduce new programs, spur innovation, and bring out new initiatives that can help further the quality of life for the student body.

Keirans followed through with on of his main goals in January 2009, when the tenant-landlord mediation center opened up. This allowed free access for mediation services for students and landlords in disputes including snow removal, building maintenance, and heating and cooling services.

Next on his list of objectives was the legal affairs program, which opened on March 29 of this year. Legal affairs will be headed up by Dickinson School of Law graduate Caroline Larrabee and will provide legal services for students in need. The office is located in 135 Boucke, should you ever need to visit.

Freshman Outreach

While Keirans wishes he could have done more with his presidency to spur outreach to freshmen students in order to get them involved from the get-go with student government, his presidency has seen the adoption of the Student Handbook, an initiative led by Samantha Miller, as an attempt to garner support and awareness of the UPUA. Unfortunately, one of Keiran’s biggest regrets of his presidency was not being able to bring his freshmen outreach plan to fruition, in which he would personally meet with incoming freshmen students and educate them about the workings of the UPUA and hopefully get them involved in student government and spur interest to further the future of student government at Penn State. It had been one of his biggest tenets when he first started his campaign two years ago.

The UPUA Legacy

On the subject of the UPUA’s lasting legacy, Keirans had this to say,

I think the UPUA legacy as a whole will be one of building and creating tangible results and successes and I think reestablishing a reputation that UPUA can actually do things.

As far as his own legacy is concerned, Keirans feels that it was his entire governing body, rather than just himself, that aided in picking up the UPUA from its bootstraps and bringing it to what it is today. He said he was fortunate enough to have two very strong vice presidents, Valerie Russell and Hilary Gupta, each of whom steered from jousting for the spotlight and contributed in a major way to the successes of both Keirans’ presidency and the UPUA as a whole.  Keirans has certainly appreciated the help of the other assembly members, including Chief of Staff Matt Smith, of whom Encampment was his “brainchild.”  He also recognized Samantha Miller for pioneering the Freshmen Handbook and Sam Loewner for helping bring together the Academic Affairs Committee and helped get the ball moving.

Criticisms of his Presidency

No presidency is perfect, and Keirans clearly admits that fact:

There were mistakes that were going to happen, but we have rectified them in a large way. There really hasn’t been a spending issue that has gone awry.

Over the years, there have been a number of criticisms about the UPUA under Keirans, most specifically highlighted in this year’s presidential elections. Keirans does express regret over the downtown office initiative, which he called a “glaring mistake.” But he feels that the UPUA has since been able to learn from those mistakes and will hopefully follow the structure that he has helped put in place in order to deal with future problems.

His Time as President

One of the most difficult things Keirans faced while maintaining the UPUA presidency was the worry that the UPUA would fall back into its history of in-fighting. Certainly there were some instances of that in the beginning of the semester, but the UPUA was able to overcome them and maintain that legitimacy that Keirans helped establish. He also says that one of his favorite parts of being president was the constant emergence of new challenges each week. There was rarely a dull evening Wednesday night when the UPUA met regularly in room 302 in the HUB, and Keirans enjoyed this most of all. Of his overall time as president, he said that he has learned so much more by working with the UPUA than he would have ever learned in a classroom setting.

The UPUA Today

Years ago, after the impeachment of eight of 11 presidents in only a short amount of time, the Undergraduate Student Government seemed to be collapsing. It was plagued by in-fighting and was eventually dissolved. The UPUA was only a blip on the student government radar. But in 2008, Gavin Keirans stepped up as president of the UPUA, a constitution was made, judicial and executive branches were formed, and a standing budget was conceived. Today, the UPUA has been responsible for numerous accomplishments, including the White Loop extension, the Freshman Handbook, the Book Exchange, Legal Affairs, Tenant-Landlord mediation, Wallypalloza and the Last Stop, and countless other initiatives that have bettered the Penn State community.

While Gavin would disagree in taking full credit for all of these accomplishments, if it wasn’t for his strength and leadership, the UPUA very well could have fallen back into the dark ages. We wish him luck in his post-graduation endeavors at Accenture in Philadelphia.

Current UPUA President Christian Ragland has picked up the torch and plans to continue to further the student government set up by the Keirans presidency. Let’s just hope that the UPUA doesn’t fall back into the pitfalls of bickering and in-fighting.

[Photo Credit: Chase Tralka]

About the Author

Tom Kent

I was born in Virginia Beach, raised in Westfield, NJ, went to college at Penn State, moved to Miami, FL. Peruvian on mom's side and English on my Dad's. I'm a Journalism major and Political Science minor. I do not currently own any reptiles.

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